All posts by Bryan Swopes

About Bryan Swopes

Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America's aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.

27 January 1939

Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457 at March Field, Riverside County, California, January 1939. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457 at March Field, Riverside County, California, January 1939. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

27 January 1939: First Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, Air Corps, United States Army, made the first flight of the prototype Lockheed XP-38 Lightning, serial number 37-457, at March Field, Riverside County, California.

This was a short flight. Immediately after takeoff, Kelsey felt severe vibrations in the airframe. Three of four flap support rods had failed, leaving the flaps unusable.

1st Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, Air Corps, United States Army, 1937.

Returning to March Field, Kelsey landed at a very high speed with a 18° nose up angle. The tail dragged on the runway. Damage was minor and the problem was quickly solved.

Designed by an engineering team led by Hall L. Hibbard, which included the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the XP-38 was a single-place, twin-engine fighter designed for very high speed and long range. It was an unusual configuration with the cockpit and armament in a center nacelle, with two longitudinal booms containing the engines and propellers, turbochargers, radiators and coolers. The Lightning was equipped with tricycle landing gear. The nose strut retracted into the center nacelle and the two main gear struts retracted into bays in the booms. To reduce drag, the sheet metal used butt joints with flush rivets.

The prototype had been built built at Lockheed’s factory in Burbank, California. On the night of 31 December 1938/1 January 1939, it was transported to March Field aboard a convoy of three trucks. Once there, the components were assembled by Lockheed technicians working under tight security.

Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Left profile, Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (U.S. Air Force)
Left profile, Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed XP-38 Lightning 37-457

The XP-38 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 52 feet (15.850 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.952 meters). Its empty weight was 11,507 pounds (5,219.5 kilograms). The gross weight was 13,904 pounds (6,306.75 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,416 pounds (6,992.6 kilograms).

The Lightning was the first production airplane to use the Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710 single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines. When installed on the P-38, these engines rotated in opposite directions. The XP-38 used a pair of experimental C-series Allisons, with the port V-1710-C8 (V-1710-11) engine being a normal right-hand tractor configuration, while the starboard engine, the V-1710-C9 (V-1710-15), was a left-hand tractor. Through a 2:1 gear reduction, these engines drove the 11-foot (3.353 meters) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers inward to counteract the torque effect of the engines and propellers. (Viewed from the front of the airplane, the XP-38’s starboard propeller turned clockwise, the port propeller turned counter-clockwise. The direction of rotation was reversed in the YP-38 service test prototypes and production P-38 models.) The engines have long propeller gear drive sections to aid in streamlining aircraft, and are sometimes referred to as “long-nose Allisons.”

The V-1710-11 and -15 had a compression ratio of 6.65:1. They had a continuous power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for takeoff. The combination of a gear-driven supercharger and an exhaust-driven General Electric B-1 turbosupercharger allowed these engines to maintain their rated power levels to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

The -11 and -15 were 7 feet, 10.46 inches (2.399 meters) long. The -11 was 3 feet, 6.59 inches (1.082 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.93 inches (0.7348 meters) wide. It weighed 1,300 pounds (589.7 kilograms). The -15 was 3 feet, 4.71 inches (1.034 meters) high, 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.7351 meters) wide, and weighed 1,305 pounds (591.9 kilograms).

A 1939 Allison Engine Company V-1710-33 liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms) and produced 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. During World War II, this engine cost $19,000. (NASM)
A 1939 Allison Engine Company V-1710-33 liquid-cooled, supercharged SOHC 60° V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms) and produced 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. During World War II, this engine cost $19,000. (NASM)

The XP-38 had a maximum speed of 413 miles per hour (664.66 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582.4 meters).

The XP-38 was unarmed, but almost all production Lightnings carried a 20 mm auto cannon and four Browning .50-caliber machine guns grouped together in the nose. They could also carry bombs or rockets and jettisonable external fuel tanks.

Lockheed XP-38 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XP-38 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The prototype XP-38 was damaged beyond repair when, on approach to Mitchel Field, New York, 11 February 1939, both engines failed to accelerate from idle due to carburetor icing. Unable to maintain altitude, Lieutenant Kelsey crash landed on a golf course and was unhurt.

Testing continued with thirteen YP-38A pre-production aircraft and was quickly placed in full production. The P-38 Lightning was one of the most successful combat aircraft of World War II. By the end of the war, Lockheed had built 10,037 Lightnings.

Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier in the cockpit of P-38J-10-LO Lightning 42-68008. (Lockheed Martin)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

26 January 1975

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC 72-0119 Streak Eagle, Aquila Maxima, world record holder. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC 72-0119 Streak Eagle, Aquila Maxima, world record holder. (U.S. Air Force)
Major David W. Peterson, U.S. Air Force.
Major David W. Peterson, U.S. Air Force.

26 January 1975: In a continuing series of time-to-altitude records, Major David W. Peterson, U.S. Air Force, a test pilot assigned to the F-15 Joint Test Force at Edwards AFB, California, ran the engines of the McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, Streak Eagle to full afterburner while it was attached to a hold-back device on the runway at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. The fighter was released and 161.025 seconds later it climbed through 82,020.997 feet (25,000 meters), setting another Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record. This was the seventh time-to-altitude record set by the modified F-15 in just ten days.

FAI Record File Num [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 25 000 m
Performance: 2 min 41.025s
Date: 1975-01-26
Course/Location: Grand Forks, ND (USA)
Claimant David W. Peterson (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-15
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney F-100

Streak Eagle, the modified McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, on the runway at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, being prepared for a flight record attempt. (U.S. Air Force)

Streak Eagle is a very early production F-15A-6-MC Eagle, a single-seat, twin-engine air superiority fighter. It is 63 feet, 9.0 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9.7 inches (13.048 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 5.4 inches (5.624 meters). The F-15A has an empty weight of 25,870 pounds (11,734 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 44,497 pounds (20,184 kilograms).

The F-15A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JTF22A-25A (F100-PW-100) afterburning turbofan engines. The F100 is a two-spool, axial-flow turbine engine with a 3-stage fan section; 10-stage compressor; single chamber combustion section; and 4-stage turbine (2 low- and 2 high-pressure stages). The engine has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 12,410 pounds of thrust (55.202 kilonewtons); 14,690 pounds (65.344 kilonewtons, 30-minute limit; and a maximum 23,840 pounds (106.046 kilonewtons), 5-minute limit. The F100-PW-100 is 191 inches (4.851 meters) long, 46.5 inches (1.181 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,035 pounds (1,376.7 kilograms).

The cruise speed of the F-15A Eagle is 502 knots (578 miles per hour/930 kilometers per hour). It has a maximum speed of 893 knots (1,028 miles per hour/1,654 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 1,434 knots (1,650 miles per hour/2,656 kilometers per hour) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters). The ceiling is 63,050 feet (19,218 meters) at maximum power. It can climb at an initial 67,250 feet per minute (342 meters per second) from Sea Level, and with a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.15:1, The F-15 can climb straight up. The Eagle’s combat radius is 638 nautical miles (734 statute miles/1,182kilometers).

The F-15A is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon with 938 rounds of ammunition, four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.

384 F-15A Eagles were built before production shifted to the improved F-15C version. As F-15Cs became operation, the F-15As were transferred to Air National Guard units assigned to defend continental U.S. airspace. The last F-15A was retired from service in 2009.

Streak Eagle over St. Louis. (McDonnell Douglas Corporation)

Streak Eagle was specially modified for the record attempts. Various equipment that would not be needed for these flights was eliminated: The flap and speed brake actuators, the M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm cannon and its ammunition handling equipment, the radar and fire control systems, unneeded cockpit displays and radios, and one generator.

Other equipment was added: A long pitot boom was mounted at the nose with alpha and beta vanes, equipment for the pilot’s David Clark Company A/P-225-6 full pressure suit, extremely sensitive accelerometers and other instrumentation, extra batteries, an in-cockpit video camera aimed over the pilot’s shoulder, and perhaps most important, a special hold-down device was installed in place of the fighter’s standard arresting hook.

These changes resulted in an airplane that was approximately 1,800 pounds (817 kilograms) lighter than the standard production F-15A. This gave it a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.4:1.

The flight profiles for the record attempts were developed by McDonnell Douglas Chief Experimental Test Pilot, Charles P. “Pete” Garrison (Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Retired).

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC Streak Eagle 72-0119. (U.S. Air Force)

Streak Eagle carried only enough fuel for each specific flight, and weighed 36,709 pounds (16.650.9 kilograms). It was secured to the hold-back device on the runway and the engines were run up to full afterburner. It was released from the hold-back and was airborne in just three seconds.

When the F-15 reached 428 knots (793.4 kilometers per hour), the pilot pulled up into an Immelman turn, holding 2.5 Gs. Streak Eagle would arrive back over the air base, in level flight at about 32,000 feet (9,754 meters), but upside down. Rolling up right, Streak Eagle continued accelerating to Mach 1.8 and the pilot would pull the fighter up at 4.0 Gs until it reached a 55° climb angle. He held 55° until he had reached 25,000 meters, then pushed over. Streak Eagle returned to land at Grand Forks.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 5.46.11 PMBecause Streak Eagle was a very early production airplane, its internal structure was weaker than the final production F-15A standard. It was considered too expensive to modify it to the new standard. It was transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in December 1980.

Streak Eagle, the record-setting McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, in "Compass Ghost" two-tone blue camouflage at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Streak Eagle, the record-setting McDonnell Douglas F-15A-6-MC, 72-0119, in “Compass Ghost” two-tone gray camouflage at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

26 January 1972

Miss Vesna Vulović, Jugoslavenski Aerotransport. (AFP PHOTO)

26 January 1972: Miss Vesna Vulović was a flight attendant aboard Jugoslavenski Aerotransport (JAT) Flight 367, en route from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Zagreb, Yugoslavia.

The airliner, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32, YU-AHT, was nearly new. It had made its first flight the previous year and had a total 2,091 hours.

Jugoslavenski Aerotransport McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32, YU AHL, landing at Zurich, Switzerland, 1972. This is the same type airliner as YU-AHT. (clipperarctic/Wikipedia)

At 4:01 p.m., over Srbská Kamenice, Czechoslovakia, a bomb exploded in the airliner’s baggage compartment. As the airplane broke apart from the force of the explosion and decompression, 19 people fell from the disintegrating passenger cabin. Wreckage of the DC-9 was dispersed over several kilometers.

Wreckage of McDonnell Douglas DC-9 YU-AHT. (Bureau of Aircraft Accident Archives)

Miss Vulović was among those who fell. According to Guinness World Records, she fell 10,160 meters (33,333 feet), and though she was severely injured, she survived. The remainder of the passengers and crew were killed.

Miss Vulović was in a coma for 27 days, and never regained memory of the incident. She was paralyzed below her waist for several months and remained hospitalized for 1 year, 4 months.

In 1985, Guinness credited her with the “highest fall survived without a parachute.” The award was presented by Paul McCartney.

Miss Vulović was born in Belgrade, Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, 3 January 1950. She died there 23 December 2016 at the age of 66 years. She was buried at Novo groblje, a cemetery in Belgrade, Republic of Serbia.

Vulović suffered a fractured skull, three vertebrae, several ribs, her pelvis and both legs. (Codzienna Dawka Historii w Grafikach)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

25–26 January 1957

Lockheed YC-121F Super Constellation 53-8158 with wing tip fuel tanks. (U. S. Air Force 180320-F-ZZ999-412)

25–26 January 1957: A United States Air Force Lockheed YC-121F Super Constellation departed Long Beach Airport (LGB), Long Beach, California, at 10:22 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, 25 January (06:22, 26 January, UTC) under the command of Major Stanley Forster. Other members of the crew were Captain John P. Burkett, Master Sergeant Conrad S. Stevens, and Master Sergeant Travis B. Hodges. A civilian news representative, Joseph W. Draper, was also on board.

Left to right: Master Sergeant Conrad S. Stevens, Captain John P. Burkett, Major Stanley L. Forster, and Master Sergeant Travis B. Hodges. (Wilmington Morning News.)

Flying at an altitude of 27,000 feet (8,230 meters) the Lockheed flew 2,033 nautical miles (2,340 statute miles/3,766 kilometers) across the continent to Andrews Air Force Base (ADW), Camp Springs, Maryland. The airplane crossed overhead at 6:05 a.m, 26 January, Eastern Standard Time (11:05 UTC), for an elapsed time of 4 hours, 43 minutes.

The YC-121F had averaged 424.66 knots (488.69 miles per hour/786.47 kilometers per hour) between Long Beach and Andrews.

Unable to land at Andrews because of adverse weather conditions, the YC-121F proceeded to Dover, Delaware, where it touched down at 6:29 a.m., EST, 26 January (11:29, 26 January, UTC). The total duration of the flight was 5 hours, 7 minutes.

The YC-121F was one of two assigned to the 1700th Test Squadron, Military Air Transport Service (MATS), at Kelly Air Force base, San Antonio, Texas, along with turboprop-driven Boeing KC-97 Stratocruisers and Douglas C-124 Globemasters. The airplanes were used to test various combinations of engines and propellers.

One of the four U.S. Navy Lockheed R7V-2 Super Constellations. (Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Aircraft Corporation built four R7V-2s at its plant in Burbank, California, for the U.S. Navy. They were assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. Nos.”) 131630, -631, -660 and -661. The first two R7V-2s, -630 and -631, were transferred to the U.S. Air Force, re-designated YC-121F and assigned Air Force serial numbers 53-8157 and 53-8158. The airplanes’ Lockheed model numbers were L-1249A-94-75. The YC-121F made its first flight in April 1955.

The R7V-2/YC-121F was the ultimate variant of Lockheed’s Constellation series. It was normally operated by a flight crew of five, and could carry 106 passengers, or 24,210 pounds (10,981 kilograms) of cargo. The airplane was 115 feet, 10 inches (35.306 meters) long, with a wingspan of 117 feet, 0 inches (35.662 meters), and overall height of 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters). It had a total total wing area of 1,615 square feet (150.04 square meters). The airplane could be equipped with wingtip fuel tanks, which increased the overall span to 119 feet (36.271 meters). The YC-121F’s empty weight was 72,387 pounds (32,834 kilograms), and it had a maximum takeoff weight of 148,540 pounds (67,377 kilograms).

Three-view illustration with dimensions. (U.S. Navy)

The YC-121F was powered by four Pratt & Whitney YT34-P-6 turboprop engines. The T34 was an axial-flow engine with a 13-stage compressor, 8 flame tubes, and a 3-stage turbine. The -P-6 had a normal power rating of 4,750 shaft horsepower at 10,500 r.p.m., and also produced 1,125 pounds of jet thrust. The military power rating was 5,300 s.h.p. at 11,000 r.p.m., and 1,250 pounds of thrust (30-minute limit). The takeoff power rating was 5,500 s.h.p. at 11,000 r.p.m., with 1,250 pounds of thrust (5-minute limit). The engines drove three-bladed, 16 foot, 0 inch (4.877 meters) Hamilton Standard propellers through a 0.0909:1 gear reduction.

Pratt & Whitney YT34-P-12A turboprop engines with Hamilton Standard propellers. (SDASM Catalog #: 00032061)

The YC-121F had a cruise speed of 310 knots (357 miles per hour/574 kilometers per hour ) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and maximum speed of 386 knots (444 miles per hour/715 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). It had a maximum rate of climb of 4,600 feet per minute from Sea Level at combat weight. The service ceiling was 26,400 feet (8,047 meters), but it could reach 32,900 feet (10,028 meters). The transport had a maximum combat range of 1,998 nautical miles (2,299 statute miles/3,700 kilometers).

YC-121F 53-8158 was later used by Lockheed as a test bed for the Allison 501D turboprops for the L-188 Electra. It was nicknamed “Elation” (ELectra + ConstellATION). Both YC-121Fs were salvaged to rebuild two Flying Tiger Lines transports to the L-1049H configuration.

One of four turboprop-powered R7V-2 Super Constellations built by Lockheed for the United States Navy. (Lockheed Martin)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes